How the viral petition to save Mary Jane Veloso reached Jokowi

Voltaire Tupaz
'The #SaveMaryJane campaign proves that even in the darkest of hours, it is worth holding on to the tiniest inch of hope because a fight to save a person’s life is always a battle worth fighting for'

MANILA, Philippines –  More than 200,000 signatures from 127 countries are now etched on a petition that helped spare the life of a Filipina from execution in Indonesia on April 29.

The petition, now the fastest growing plea on Change.org – Philippines, reached the Indonesian State Palace through social media and a social movement that persevered to save the life of Mary Jane Veloso.

In a meeting with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, an award-winning migrant advocate in Indonesia called the Indonesian leader’s attention to the viral online signature drive and the growing clamor to spare the 30-year-old mother of two on Indonesia’s death row. 

“We also talked about it – that there is a huge support for Mary Jane from many people around the world,” Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah told Rappler Philippines in a phone interview. 

(Migrant Care, together with labor unions, holds protest this morning – 26 April – in front of Bundaran Hotel Indonesia to urge the President to abolish death penalty. #abolishdeathpenalty @jokowi_do2.)

Joined by 3 other labor leaders, Anis met with Widodo at about 12:30 pm on Tuesday, April 28, a few hours before the scheduled execution. (READ: Jokowi on Mary Jane Veloso: I listened to rights groups)

Anis said she got the invitation to meet the Indonesian President on Tuesday night. The meeting, which turned emotional, lasted for about an hour, according to Anis.

“I cried when I told him that Zaenab ended up being executed. I turned silent, and so did he,” Anis told Rappler’s Indonesia Bureau.

Anis said Widodo appeared sympathetic as he listened to their plea to spare Veloso, who shared the same fate as many other Indonesian migrant workers victimized by human trafficking and drug smuggling.

He was was quite emotional. Not angry; irritated maybe, because he already denied Mary Jane’s clemency appeal,” Anis recalled.

Outside, members of church groups and other Indonesian civil society organizations were holding a daily rally, Anis said. By then, support for the #SaveMaryJane call was already gaining ground in the Internet, according to petition platform Change.org.

Veloso was arrested in 2010 with 2.6 kilograms of heroin sewn into the lining of her suitcase. She claimed she went to Indonesia for a job as a maid and was duped into carrying drugs by an international drug syndicate. 

#SAVEMARYJANE MOVEMENT. Filipino anti riot police stand guard next to protesters during a demonstration as they wait for the scheduled execution of Mary Jane Veloso, in front of the Indonesian embassy in Makati City, Philippines, on April 28. Photo byFrancis R. Malasig/EPA

#SaveMaryJane Twitterstorm

The online movement to #SaveMaryJane started in the Philippines in March, where the network of overseas Filipino workers Migrante launched a series of protest actions. The group, together with activist organizations and Veloso’s family, decried the weak and belated response of the Aquino government to the plight of the Filipina on death row. (WATCH: The fate of Mary Jane Veloso)

The call gained strength when the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) and other groups under the Church Task Force to Save the Life of Mary Jane Veloso launched an international appeal on Sunday, April 26, via Rappler’s civic engagement arm MovePH.

“They started a petition believing that even if Mary Jane was up against all odds, international pressure, not through diplomacy but through ordinary citizens’ voices would be instrumental in influencing Jokowi,” Change.org senior campaigner Christine Roque said. 

After MovePH published the call and put click buttons under all related Rappler articles, a global conversation was sparked. It pushed the petition to the top 10 of the most signed petitions globally over that weekend. (READ: SIGN THE PETITION: Join global action to #SaveMaryJane

“This is huge and rare for a petition from the Philippines…MovePH was instrumental in making this happen,” according to Roque.

The church task force also urged those who signed the petition to tag Jokowi’s Twitter account (@jokowi_do2) with posts that used the hashtag #SaveMaryJane. According to Change.org – Philippines, the coordinated online action spawned a Twitterstorm.

As the petition soared in the country, the task force reached out to influential Indonesian news outlets, online personalities, and its global church network. 

In the process, the church task force found allies in the National Women’s Rights Commission in Indonesia and many personalities who shared #SaveMaryJane posts and the petition. TEARS OF JOY. A rallyist in front of the Indonesian embassy in the Philippines tears up as news on Mary Jane Veloso's last-minute reprieve breaks. Photo by Jansen Romero/Rappler.com

Tiniest inch of hope

Change.org – Indonesia backed the petition with a version in Bahasa Indonesia. The petition was also translated into French because of the multiple inquiries made to Change.org from France. These people sympathized with Veloso, who was in the same boat as another French drug convict on Indonesian death row. 

When the Indonesian attorney general announced on Tuesday night that the execution will push through after Widodo held the special meetings, another  wave of online calls had to be pushed. Anis’ group and the church task force immediately emailed the petition supporters – about 164,000 at the time – to send a barrage of text messages to Prasetyo. (READ: Barrage of texts sent to Indonesia attorney general)

“The #SaveMaryJane campaign proves that even in the darkest of hours, it is worth holding on to the tiniest inch of hope because a fight to save a person’s life is always a battle worth fighting for,” Roque said.

Before dawn on Wednesday, April 29, #MaryJaneLives trended online. – Rappler.com